Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Decline of the Encore

Now here's a funny thing I've noticed: encores seem to be disappearing--at least from the concerts I've seen lately. Perhaps this is just a regional thing, or perhaps I don't go to enough concerts. Please correct me on this. But in comparison to concerts, say, twenty to forty years ago, the encore seems very infrequent nowadays. Let me give a couple of examples. I saw Andres Segovia play a concert in a 2,000 seat hall in the middle 70s. It was a big program, about an hour of music in each half, and at the end he came back and played five or six encores. A different kind of concert entirely, but around the same time, I saw Nigel Rogers perform. He is an outstanding singer of early music, especially that of the 17th century. The whole program was from that era and included music by Caccini and Purcell. He was accompanied just by harpsichord. At the end of the program he was called back to do seven encores. Most recitals ended with at least one or two encores. In the 80s I saw a special concert in Toronto which was the premiere of Leo Brouwer's Toronto Concerto for guitar and orchestra. Leo Brouwer was conducting and the soloist was John Williams. At the end, the audience gave a very long standing ovation. Leo and John came out many times and shook the hands of every member of the orchestra at least once (including the last desk second violinist) and finally, there being no other option, encored the slow movement of the concerto.

Compare this to now: last summer I saw an extremely fine concert by the Endellion Quartet playing a program of Haydn, Shostakovich and Beethoven and there was no encore. The audience enthusiastically stood up, clapped, the quartet took one bow, then everyone started leaving. Even with very fine concerts this seems to be the norm now. They stand up and clap, but it is 50% enthusiasm and 50% the urge to head for the exit. What's going on, I wonder? Is everyone's attention span shorter? I notice that programs tend to be shorter as well. What do you think the reason is? Or have I just  been at the wrong concerts? At the finest piano recital I have seen lately, by Kevin Kenner, the same thing happened. Stand up, clap enthusiastically just long enough for the artist to take one bow, then head for the exit. Hmmmmm.... Any thoughts? Don't these folks deserve an encore or three?

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